Tentative amount for Champaign high schools: $150 million

Tentative amount for Champaign high schools: $150 million

CHAMPAIGN — Voters in the Champaign school district will likely be asked to approve $150 million to build a new Central High School and renovate Centennial High School, about $30 million more than early estimates for the projects.

The Champaign school board Monday night discussed a tentative ballot question for the Nov. 4 election and will take a final vote Aug. 11.

If you voted today, which way are you leaning? Tell Tom Kacich about it here

The money includes $98 million for Central and $52 million for Centennial, but no money to renovate Dr. Howard Elementary School or almost $100 million in other needs identified in a 20-year master facility plan Monday night.

If voters approve the measure in November, the school district would borrow $150 million in bonds and repay them using higher property taxes. The district's tax rate would rise by 51 or 52 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, equaling about $160.58 per year for the owner of a $100,000 home, school officials said.

That would still keep Champaign's tax rate at the low end among Big 12 Conference schools, said school attorney Tom Lockman.

The total will sound like "a lot" to voters, acknowledged school board President Laurie Bonnett, but after hearing about the aging facilities and curriculum needs at the two schools Monday night, she said $150 million is "mean and lean. And it's a good number."

"I'm hopeful," she said of the measure's chances in November.

The money would deliver the educational program teachers have been clamoring for and "match the value of this community as to price," added Superintendent Judy Wiegand.

A district poll showed 47 percent of voters would support a referendum of that size.

"People want nice things. Unfortunately, we have to pay for them, and you have to maintain them," said school board member Lynn Stuckey.

Initial estimates were $80 million for Central and $40 million for Centennial.

School officials said those figures were from two years ago, and construction costs have risen since then. They were also based on "rule of thumb" estimates for a school with 1,600 students, whereas the new numbers take into account the actual educational programs that will be offered and will cover 1,700 students.

What would the $150 million buy? Besides the new football, baseball, softball, tennis, track and soccer fields discussed to date for Central, school officials outlined the academic needs at both schools Monday night.

It would pay for 33 classrooms, four small classrooms, 15 science labs and seven physical education stations at the two schools, to meet standards laid out in the district's "Great Schools, Together" initiative.

Additional spaces would be provided for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs and meet "21st Century science standards," officials said. Collaborative spaces would be provided to support project-based learning.

The buildings would also support such programs as manufacturing/welding, an automotive lab, architecture/engineering lab, construction/trades lab, health professions, broadcast journalism and graphic arts.

Central would also get an improved auditorium, outdoor spaces for PE, and a marching band practice area.

Both high schools would be fitted with modern mechanical and electrical systems for technology needs, new windows with screens, energy-saving improvements, dedicated arts and music spaces, band spaces with more storage and practice spaces, special-education rooms, proper storage and band practice rooms.

Wiegand said the district also needs to replace Centennial's indoor pool or build a new one at Central. That cost is built into the overall $150 million estimate.

"I don't believe we need a pool at both high schools, but we do need to replace it," Wiegand said.

Kathy Shannon, who has two students in Champaign schools, criticized the board's decision to build the new Central at Neil Street and Interstate Drive. That site dramatically reduces the ability of students to walk or bike to school and increases sprawl and traffic problems in north Champaign, she said.

"I'm disappointed in the board's choice of the Interstate Drive site, and I won't vote for the referendum even though I know we desperately need new high school facilities," Shannon said.

Board member Jamar Brown said the board has spent years researching available sites.

"If people vote no (while) waiting for the perfect location, we will never have a new high school. ... There will never be any growth in this district."

As part of their "Master Facility Plan," administrators also outlined almost $100 million of other projects to be done over the next 20 years.

The plan includes:

— Rebuilding Dr. Howard Elementary School on a new site with a new K-8 school with three strands — three classrooms per grade — and a total of 608 students. Cost: $30 million.

— Renovating and expanding South Side Elementary School from a two-strand to a three-strand school and 383 total students. Cost: $14.5 million.

— Continuing to expand the International Prep Academy on Kirby Avenue as an elementary school. Cost to be determined.

— Rebuilding Edison Middle School on a new site with room for 750 students. Cost: $27.2 million.

— Renovating Jefferson Middle School for 675 students. Cost: $11.3 million

— Renovating Franklin Middle School for 675 students. Cost: $14.5 million.

— Using the current Central High School for administrative services now provided at the former Columbia school, the Mellon Administrative Center, the Family Information Center and the Novak Academy. Those facilities would be closed. Estimated savings: $194,217 annually. Renovation costs not provided.

The plan would be to use proceeds from the 1 percent sales tax to fund those projects as they become available.

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the total for other building projects in the district's 20-year master plan.

Sections (2):News, Local
Tags (1):2014 election


News-Gazette.com embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

ajbuckle wrote on July 29, 2014 at 1:07 am

The best high school in down state Illinois is in a building constructed in 1916.  


What makes you think that a new building and a mountain of debt will improve educational outcomes at Central?

rsp wrote on July 29, 2014 at 5:07 am

I want to know how much they think it will cost to run the new Central. With all that fancy programming we can't afford now. Every year they lay off staff until the next fall when they know how much money there will be. How do they plan on staffing all those labs? Who will pay for that? Will they sneak in another property tax to cover that when the state doesn't pony up?

Why can't this be phased in? Why do we have to be saddled with so much debt so fast when so many in this community are low income? Who are we competing with? The Big 12 schools now? We base our tax rate on what other conference schools base their's on? Are you kidding me? Keep telling us this isn't about the playing fields!

787 wrote on July 29, 2014 at 7:07 am

Heck, why don't we just make it an even $200 million., just because that's a nice round number... ?

Considering all of the stumbles and mis-steps that this school board has made in the past year, my vote will be NO.

AreaMan wrote on July 29, 2014 at 8:07 am
Profile Picture

The School Board still doesn't have a full estimate of the transportation costs associated with locating the facilities so far north. CUMTD is still calculating these costs, and in an area that is largely inaccessible via cycling or walking, transportation costs are likely one of the largest on-going costs to support this siting decision. The Board is offloading this cost onto us as parents and taxpayers.

I understand the need for new facilities, but I wish for more creative solutions to keep our community from unnecessary and unsustainable sprawl.

jwr12 wrote on July 29, 2014 at 9:07 am

I very much agree that taxpayers deserve a vision of how the transportation issues surrounding this new site will be handled.  To my knowledge, the only information so far released was a very limited "traffic study" which simply said that in theory the roads in that area could handle more traffic.  But that's a far cry from a sustainable plan for handling the obvious costs and inconveniences of this far away site.

I have to admit, as a school-loving parent of 2, that I'm troubled by the following paragraph, which unfortunately characterizes this discussion:

"What would the $150 million buy? Besides the new football, baseball, softball, tennis, track and soccer fields discussed to date for Central ..."

I'm sure--or at least I hope--that academics and vocational programs have been driving the selection of this new site, rather than the demand for vast new athletics complexes.  That said, it seems from the outside that parking lots and athletic fields are the biggest space demands, making the big new campus and suburban site necessary.  And at least as reported here, the actual academic facilities we would be getting remain somewhat sketchy.  We're told that if the bond is approved, we will get "33 classrooms, four small classrooms, 15 science labs and seven physical education stations at the two schools." If 2/3 of those go to a new Central, so we're imagining a 20 room, 3 conference room, 10 lab , 3 PE station school?  Sounds sort of like Stratton.  If it weren't for the athletics complexes and the parking lots necessitated by the location, would we really need 80 acres for that kind of facility? 

I would still like to see the Board 1) provide a real transportation plan and 2) explain why educational programs other than athletics need this large site.

nomad wrote on July 29, 2014 at 10:07 am
Profile Picture

  This is a lot like The US Air force building a new airbase.  1st the generals work with the realtors to determine the best econmic impact.T2nd  the base is built with of course cost overruns. 3rd They go back to congress for the money to buy planes. 4th More money is needed to pay for the operations ofthe airbae. We do not need new sports anything!!. If people want that then let them donate their own money for that, or have some of the Multi Million dollar sports figures pay for it.

  It is worth pointing out that most of the people running the world today, and foreign students today did not have the technology and sevices we have been told are required for a competative education. The public school system today turns out sheep and do not want to encourage that. My kids finished high school at home while attending college at Parkland.

Lostinspace wrote on July 29, 2014 at 10:07 am

A. Keep the old building and renovate as needed (can't cost 150 M).

B. Ban cars: walking, bicycling, plenty of buses.

C. Off-site playing fields (arrangement with Parkland? U of I?).

D. Oh, and Improve academic performance before asking for more money.

missinJerry wrote on July 29, 2014 at 11:07 am

A drive trhough Dodds park will reveal baseball,softball, room for football, some tennis courts, soccer fields,.  Parkland  has facilities for technology classrooms, theatre, and more.  I fail to understand why there is no way to co-operate.  I think there will plenty of time to explore this because voters will turn the referendum down.

Secondly, I think the State Legislature will cost shift teachers pensions to the school districts.  That will make your $160 per $100,000 value tax increase look like pocket change. 

Cuthbert J. Twillie wrote on July 29, 2014 at 4:07 pm

The total will sound like "a lot" to voters, acknowledged school board President Laurie Bonnett, but after hearing about the aging facilities and curriculum needs at the two schools Monday night, she said $150 million is "mean and lean. And it's a good number."

"I'm hopeful," she said of the measure's chances in November.


Your delusional.


After Jamar said the other day in the NG that we need to be tolerate of kids who punch other kids in class due to  " cultural differences"    I figure that M-S, Fisher, Unity and SJO are about to see huge increases in school population.


Central was the poor stepchild for years.  Let Centennial be that way for a while longer.  that will save 50million and who cares if they have portables out there for  a while?

rsp wrote on July 29, 2014 at 6:07 pm

Regarding the "dreaded portables", I attended Jefferson when they had I think 3 or 4 parked to the north side in the front. I had an electronics class in one and also had drafting. The teachers complained about the buildings, not the kids.  We had other things on our minds. To some of us it was like keeping up with some shiny object while some kids were coming to school hungry, others were focused on their designer jeans.

There was a bump in enrollment and when class rolls went down they went away. They had stairs so no wheelchairs allowed. That was the biggest drawback. 1970s.

Dr. Howard has a lot of stairs and no elevator. The walls are sinking. To get from one floor to another you have to go down and then back up. They building is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Why the school board doesn't focus on this issue is beyond me.

SaintClarence27 wrote on July 31, 2014 at 8:07 am

Dr. Howard is a significantly larger issue than Central, IMO.

aantulov wrote on July 29, 2014 at 10:07 pm

These figures are misleading, there are other options.

Is there something in the water in this town that people don't notice that the many hirise building going up daily have been given a NPTF30Y card. NPT - NOT PAYING TAXES FOR 30 YEARS. That's the only reason there is a proposed tax increase. You get the government you particpate in, and voting is only a tiny part. These counsel meetings have been empty. You vote everytime you open your wallet. 

Attend the meetings. Put a face on all these nameless building owners, boycott the Hyatt internationaly if an immediate ban on tax evasion is not evoked and everyone receiving this NPTF30Y card should be well marked on their building as well as the city's website.

Its time for charter schools to be built with private funds. Its time for private schools to get a check for the fine work they are already doing and can do with less. We should be in building smaller schools, and its the only way its going to happen.

Whoever wants a welfare check for all that concrete and land can find some other suckers.

sacrophyte wrote on July 31, 2014 at 6:07 am

@aantulov do you have proof of these so-called NPTF30Y cards? The City has a number of TIF districts that act in a very similar way, but I have never heard of NPTF30Y.

aantulov wrote on August 05, 2014 at 8:08 am

Cards? Seriously? If you can't get a complete list off of any city tax site EASILY,  of who has recieved  a status, like royalty, of   "get out of paying taxes" then- the government is hiding information.

Call it TIF, call it "incentives" it all comes down to "NOT PAYING TAXES"

Anything along these lines including the selling or giving or property should be by citizen VOTE,

bluegrass wrote on July 31, 2014 at 11:07 am

Let us recall a time in our county's history, when all the problems of funding school projects like this would be solved by a 1% county-wide sales tax.  Ahh.  Yes, it's like basking in the warm sun for a moment, isn't it?


Sid Saltfork wrote on July 31, 2014 at 4:07 pm

"County wide sales tax"?  Why should the county residents fund Champaign's whims, and follies?  The Champaign "Public" Library bit off it's nose to spite it's face resulting in no outside of C-U use only to find itself alone except for Urbana.  This $150,000,000 whim should be taxed on the Champaign residents only.  The smaller county municipalites are already experiencing the flight of C-U parents seeking safe schools for their children.

pattsi wrote on August 01, 2014 at 10:08 am

Just a small clarification, as with previous Unit 4 referenda, only the Unit 4 taxpayers vote on the referendum to raise those specific taxes.

As to the 1% sales tax--just a reminder that the law is written so this was approved county wide by all the school district residents and will only be sunset if and when none of these school have bonds to be paid off by the monies generated from the 1%. Further, all of the 1% generated does not go to Unit 4, but just the appropriate proportion.

bluegrass wrote on August 04, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Sid - you realize the county-wide sales tax is already in place, right?

Pattsi, thanks for the clarification, but the point is that the 1% sales tax was passed with the idea that it would create a revenue stream to fund projects just like this.  I said at the time that just this exact thing would happen, that the schools would spend that revenue stream as far into the future as possible, and then come back hat in hand.  Enter, the $150 million indispensible school that absolutely must be built tax referendum.

ilmsff7 wrote on August 01, 2014 at 9:08 am

I find it interesting that in Urbana School District, in a community that has significant property tax challenges and is more free with a tax and spend philosophy, been able to fund multi-million dollar school projects (new early childhood school, massive renovation for King Elementary) with the 1% sales tax revenue and without a big referendum.


just_wondering wrote on July 31, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Really Sid? You of all people don't understand the county-wide sales tax and how it works? You may have to stop commenting on every single online news-gazette article if you seriously aren't aware. 

Sid Saltfork wrote on August 01, 2014 at 1:08 pm

The wording of "appropriate portions" is the issue.  C-U decides to build $150,000,000 including top of the line tech equipment.  What are the "appropriate portions" for county schools?  Basically; the county residents are paying for C-U's wants, and wishes while their schools go without.

just wondering seems to be an appropriate alias.

pattsi wrote on August 02, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Here is the N-G article publishd at the time the 1% sales tax became effective. It is worth reading again to be reminded of promises made and how the generated monies are aportioned, based on number of students per school district. The argument is being made that couny residents are paying for urban schools and the county schools go without. Since the proportioning is done by number of students, then if a district is losing students income will be reduced. On the other side of the coin, people from outside the county support our schools by simply spending money in this county. Maybe that is unfair to the children in those outside counties that do not receive a portion of the 1% tax spent here in CC.

just_wondering wrote on August 03, 2014 at 4:08 pm

There's a pretty decent school in the area if you're fed up with Champaign ...


Sid Saltfork wrote on August 04, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Schools, and crime seem to be the motivating factors for the flight out of C-U.  Mahomet does have a decent school.  That meets some of the criteria.  St. Joseph falls into that category in a lesser degree.  Both are on the interstate for commuting.  Both are growing shopping areas.  They will eventually become versions of Savoy.  Metropolitan growth continues with crime, educational distractions, and taxes.

aantulov wrote on August 05, 2014 at 8:08 am

There are a great many steps to be taken before spending this kind of cash on concrete instead of instruction. 

If offered a voucher to existing schools, how many would want it and how much would it cost?

What is the current drop out rate?

What is the amount spent to welcome kids back that have dropped out and guide them into parkland thru a semester?

What evening programs are offered at the schools, for parents that never graduated?

Are parents open to double school shift by choice at the same site?